Flying Away, Janet Kumar
by Janet Kumar
During lockdown and the constraints of life in the following weeks I have not had access to the studio where I regularly paint. A creative outlet was needed, to identify an activity that was possible in a relatively confined space and used materials to hand. Many people are using the enforced time at home to clear out cupboards, including copies of magazines and newspapers. This has proved most helpful to me. My pictures are collaged from words and pictures cut from newspapers, magazines and an assortment of other paper documents. These sources, along with television, online and radio, have provided much of our interaction with the world outside our own homes during Covid-19 lockdown.
Most of my works are photomontages, assembling photographs cut out of publications and pasted together onto one surface to create a new image that expresses an idea or simply makes an artistic image. Sometimes I have used fragments of text or other graphic shapes to make a political or humorous point.
I find there are several ways to kick off an idea for a collage or montage. Often I simply leaf through the publications and cut out anything that takes my fancy. I have no preconception about what I am looking for, or why, but I do find that some images just seem to interest and excite me. And, although I am generally clumsy I do find the process of carefully trimming out the image to be pleasing, I like to feel that with a little care I can acquire a classical statue, a flight of stairs, a barking dog, the inner core of a nuclear reactor or a football player. I then have a library of images which can be shuffled about at will, and the joy of collage is that a picture can be composed with an assortment of elements, then taken apart and rearranged until the perfect balance is achieved.
Sometimes I have an idea about something I want to express in a picture. Maybe I will have a document, such as the Art Fund programme of events that I came across when everything had already been cancelled. I glued the programme onto a piece of thin board and propped it up where I could see it every day while I thought about it. I knew there could be some way of representing the cancellations while enabling the original document to be present. Newspaper headlines and stories supplied the answer, together with the widely circulated image of the virus.
Likewise, the proliferation of statistics published about the worldwide effects of the virus provided charts of every shape and colour. These almost immediately suggested a picture of anonymous shapes and figures, which I hope commented on the political use of the data.
I have recently become overwhelmed by the amount of pictures of food that are published in cookery articles or advertisements in magazines. I am browsing for ways of expressing my thoughts about this flood of food imagery, a rich source of material that has no use-by date. Some of the shapes and colours remind me of stained glass, I may create some collaged patterns with that in mind.
When I am comfortable with the arrangement I usually take a photograph of the whole picture. This is particularly useful – in fact essential – with a complex assemblage of parts. Then when it comes to sticking down each piece they will be in exactly the right place.
The backing sheet, which should be strong enough to support the layers of paper, can be any colour, indeed it may be an essential part of the picture if you want your images to stand out against a background. Sometimes I have just used a single page of a magazine as a backing sheet if it supplied the image I wanted.
I think it is a good idea to try out the adhesives with the source materials before starting the collage. Various types of paper can react differently to types of adhesive and it could be uncomfortable to find the ink smears or the glue is difficult to use.
I use a spray adhesive, repositioning is possible if one is quick and careful and even quite flimsy paper seems to lie flat easily. It can be messy, needs sheets of old newspapers to surround the paper to be glued while spraying. Others online recommend acid free glue sticks, which are also said to aid repositioning.
Finally, I have here ignored the possibilities of digital collage / eCollage. Most of the collaged images published today will be made this way. Apart from the fact that a computer programme is needed to create this, which many of us will not posses, there are beneficial effects – the quiet concentration of tearing and cutting paper, the satisfaction of using things that are readily available around the house, and the pleasure of being inspired by random images that are common to everyone but presented in a new and interesting way.
If you’ve been inspired to collage, we would love to see what you come up with! Tag us in your creations @burghhouse1704.
Text and images © Janet Kumar